Hidetoshi Nakata is a retired football player who represents Japan through his success at European leagues and as a representative of Japanese team. After his retirement in 2006, he has been travelling all over the world. He is currently focused on travelling Japan to explore Japanese culture and traditional Japanese crafts, which led him to launch a project named “REVALUE NIPPON PROJECT” to introduce what he experienced through his travel. We asked him about his trip all over Japan and reasons for having an interest in Japanese culture.
Interview with Hidetoshi Nakata
– Please tell us about why you are interested in introducing traditional Japanese culture through holding events and your original project called “REVALUE NIPPON PROJECT” and what kind of activity you are currently engaged?
I had played football in Europe, and when I retired at the age of 29 in 2006, I thought of what I would do next. I didn’t know anything except football since I spent most of my time to play football for the past 20 years. Therefore I wanted to see a world outside of football, and traveled all over the world for around 3 years. People that I met through my trip treated me as a former professional football player and we initially talked about football. But once the topic was shifted from football to Japan, I realized how much I did not know about my country because I could not answer questions from them, which I did not think was accepted. I noticed the necessity of having certain knowledge of my country as Japanese no matter what I would do in the future. Even if I speak Italian or English, I cannot compete with native speakers for knowledge and languages that they have. Therefore, I thought it was important to have substantial knowledge about my country, which would be my unique competence, before going abroad. It was 3 years ago when I was encouraged to go back to Japan to study about Japan.
Since I prefer to learn something without going to school, I decided to travel each 47 prefecture in Japan by myself. I am interested in experiencing languages, food, drink, crafts, and religions that are unique to each area, which even Japanese are not familiar with. For example, we do not know much about sake although sake is becoming popular outside of Japan as Japanese food grows in popularity around the world. I also chose the understanding of syncretism of Shinto and Buddhism as a topic of my trip. Non Japanese think Japan is unique because Shinto, the local religion, and foreign Buddhism, which was introduced through China in 6th century, coexist in the society. But we Japanese do not find it special to take in two different religions. Therefore we go to both shrines and temples, and enjoy festivals related to each religion. Moreover, I wanted to explore good places to stay and eat to introduce them to visitors from other countries.
I thought it would be interesting to visit each area to experience real life in this region and establish friendship with people living there because there is information that only local people know even in this information society, and I want to feel atmosphere that traditional Japanese crafts have by directly looking at them. It was also my curiosity to know the best places to stay and eat at each prefecture. Therefore I am travelling all over Japan by staying a different hotel every night.
–How are you collecting information about your trip?
I wasted my time at my first destination of Okinawa, the most southern prefecture in Japan, because it was hard for me to collect sufficient information through books and the internet. But continuing to meet and talk with local people helped me to get enough local information little by little. Although in the beginning of my trip, it only took 3 days per prefecture, it takes 7 to 10 days to go around one prefecture as I have more things that I want to do now.
– Do you have anything that you want to tell through this trip in Japan?
Having this trip is my hobby. But I started to take pictures and videos because I did not want to keep it only inside myself. This trip now seems to look like a project as people have an interest in my trip and react to it. However, I keep my travel style by going wherever I want to go and eating whatever I want to eat. It is like extracurricular activities because I organize everything by myself including seeing and talking to craftsmen.
In the beginning due to the lack of my knowledge, I could not understand what craftsmen were talking, I tried to establish good relationship with them through communication by understanding what kind of personality and life that they have experienced form their crafts. Since it is impossible for me to grasp knowledge and technique that these craftsmen have obtained for years I always talk with them as a person not a craftsman. Therefore I keep in mind to ask questions from various perspectives by having an interesting in a person himself/herself before talking about what they have made.
I want to share interesting experience that I have had through this travel with other people, which led me have a website of “Revalue Nippon” . But it is my hobby rather than showing my trip itself to others.
–You may have noticed virtues of Japan after going outside of Japan. Where do you find it from the point of you, who spent most of your career as a professional football player abroad and have travelled all over the world after your retirement?
I think the characteristic of Japanese culture is that it has the idea of “Dou” (which literally means a road in Japanese) such as Sadou (tea ceremony), Kadou (flower arrangement), Kendo (Japanese fencing) etc. In general, when you learn something you are supposed to set a goal that you want to achieve. However, it does not apply to Japanese. They are unique in that they keep making quality products by refining their techniques without having any clear goal because the idea of “Dou” implies there is no such a goal that you can reach. Because of this cultural background, Japanese craftsmen are not good at introducing their culture to many people. These craftsmen think their products do not have enough quality to sell since the idea of “Dou” always makes them think their products need to be refined no matter what they produce. I think it would be interesting that more people have a chance to know the cultural background that long lasting Japanese crafts have.
– Do you find any difference in your way of looking at Japan before and after going abroad?
If I had not been to outside of Japan, I would not have been here. When I was in Japan, I was curious about what is happening outside of Japan. However, as I get along with people from foreign countries and talk with them, I have learned that they are interested in Japan, which let me have an interest in Japan and go back to Japan. I do not think Japanese products are good just because they carry Japanese traditional culture. I would rather think Japanese products have been inherited for centuries because they have good quality. It cannot be helped that some products go out of market because they cannot keep up with modern lifestyle or compete with current technique as time goes by. I am not interested in helping these products to go out of date, but I would like more people to know how amazing aspects that quality traditional Japanese products have. Therefore it is important for Japanese craftsmen to keep producing something that appeal to the sense of modern people.
–Please let us know about your future plans.
I enjoy finding new crafts and meeting new people through my current trip around Japan. Therefore I would like to explore more interesting things to make my original products based on them. I am also interested in introducing people whom I have met through my trip to outside of Japan. Although here are many areas that Japanese are competing in the world and there are many Japanese working in foreign countries, they are less connected each other. I would like to create something by helping these people establish a network.
–Please give us advice to people who want have career in the world and tips of how to succeed in the world from your experience.
I think you can go abroad whenever you want. You need to keep in mind that you have your own established identity and speak out. It is necessary that you should be able to communicate with others whatever you want to do. The way of communication does not have to be through conversation if it has another better way. When I moved to Italy to play at Perugia from Japan in 1998, I had hard time to get a ball from my team members even if I thought I had better skill. When I faced this situation, I tried to learn Italian as much as possible for me to be able to complain to my team members to get a ball, which helped me to have good performance. In addition to it, it is important that you have good understanding of foreign culture and way of thinking.
Hidetoshi Nakata is a retired Japanese professional football player. He began his professional career at Bellemare Hiratsuka (now Shonan Bellemare), and after the 1998 World Cup in France, he was signed by A.C. Perugia in Italy’s Serie A. He won the scudetto at A.S. Rome at the 2000-2001 season, which made him become the first Japanese who experienced winning the Italian league. He moved to Bolton Wanderers in England after joining Parma A.C., Bologna F.C., ACF Fiorentina. In addition to his success at European leagues, he left his name on football history as a leading Japanese player by participating in the Olympics twice and the World Cup for three times. Right after 2006 World Cup in Germany, he announced his retirement at the age of 29. He then traveled the world on a mission of social contribution holiding charity matches and gala events in various countries. He is currently travelling all over Japan to learn more about his home country. His interest in Japanese culture and traditional Japanese crafts let him launch a project called “REVALUE NIPPON PROJECT”, whose website introduces what he experienced through his trip. You can look at more details at http://www.takeactionfoundation.net/rn/